Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, December 31 through Friday, January 6, 2022 [Vol.4 No.25]
New Year 2023
Rule of Law
The Week’s Most Notable
Whatever the characterization, the first week of this new year cannot be called auspicious. The Ukraine war continues, the world economy is shaky, COVID-19 is coming back on the radar, climate change is wreaking havoc (California at the moment), and of course, the radical rump of the Republican Party (Patriot Caucus) is taking over the U.S. House of Representatives. It looks like 2023 will be difficult, often perplexing, possibly pivotal, but not necessarily the worst of years.
In the newly categorized department of nuisance news (that’s coverage of things/events that aren’t really significant but have an undeniable dramatic value and therefor get coverage) the Republican controlled House nurtured a five-day kerfuffle over the House speakership, ultimately electing Kevin McCarthy on the 15th round. There’s a pattern here worth noting: Gin up a controversy, push it to the last minute/vote/straw, and then capitulate back to an obvious point of agreement. We’ll see this repeatedly, especially over government finance issues like the debt ceiling. As ever with this kind of “playing chicken” scenario, there is always the chance for a screw-up or nutso move that actually triggers the worst outcome – keeping the game interesting. It’s important to remember that the Chaos Caucus does not care about a functioning government – only that whatever happens keeps them in (elected) power. For example: A global economic meltdown caused by a U.S. default is not a good look, but shutting down the U.S. government for a spell, no problem.
As the House Speaker fight illustrated, Trump’s control of his/the party might be called tenuous, or more accurately sporadic. The MAGA faithful are flexible about his foibles and failures; they appear to be equally flexible about his command of the party. This is especially true of MAGA politicians, who for the most part simply ride the horse they came in on, but at any time may hop off or even switch horses, if that seems to gain advantage. In any case, Trump’s marginally increasing rhetorical derangement is slowly decreasing his authority. In the upcoming faked-drama of the House’s Chaos Caucus version of blind-man’s Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey (nail Biden and the Dems/Libs with the sins of Hunter Biden, and anything similar), Trump will have little to say, much less to do. Given his upcoming direct encounter with federal and/or state criminal charges, Trump is likely to be preoccupied and considered irrelevant in most business of the House.
Meanwhile the Democrats are more or less united in enjoying the spectacle of Republican displays of internecine anthropophagy (eating their own), while simultaneously fretting about the upcoming battle over funding the government, the Ukraine war, and right-wing culture-war shibboleths. The Chaos Caucus has a long list of investigations for House Committees and “irritation legislation” (with little chance of passing in the House, less chance in the Senate, and no chance with Biden’s veto), which will run hot and cold for at least a year before becoming toxic, or boring, or irrelevant, or some combination thereof. Democrats in the House and at the White House have strategized how to respond, but it will be interesting to see what happens to the inevitable curve-ball – the potent unpredicted attack or maneuver.
Saturday, December 31, 2022
Pope Benedict XVI [1927 – 2022] (95) Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger, “the German pope,” ascended to the papacy 2005 but suddenly resigned in 2013. Under various definitions a “conservative” pope. He resigned “for health reasons;” a close approximation, but most opinion leans toward his not being physically or ideologically fit to tackle the Church’s then burgeoning sexual abuse problems.
Sunday, January 1, 2023 New Year’s Day
[Idaho Murders] Quadruple Murder Suspect Waives Extradition Hearing – In a way, the murder of four University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho might have been just another case, but it had baffled investigators since November and the points of mystery drew national media attention. Now the police have a suspect, a 28-year-old criminology student at Washington State University – all too tempting nuisance news for the media.
[Brazil] Lula Returns to Brazilian Presidency, Former President Bolsonaro Flies to Mar-a-Lago – Brazil managed a peaceful transition of power, despite right-wing and Bolsonaro supporters’ threats. Leaving with rumbles of “stolen election” still in the air, Bolsonaro joined Trump in Florida, presumably to lick mutual wounds and plot returns.
Monday, January 2
[Ukraine] Donetsk Attack Inflicts High Russian Casualties – The details and especially the casualty account are inconsistent, but it appears Ukrainian artillery hit a temporary Russian barracks near the Donetsk town of Makiivka, which caused a secondary explosion at a nearby munitions depot. Russia claims 89 dead; Ukraine says hundreds; a Russian officer reported many hundreds were killed or wounded. One detail: it is reported the Ukrainians pinpointed the location from tracking soldiers’ (forbidden) cell phone calls. It was the worst single incident of the war, but even more significantly exposed incompetence by Russian military leaders.
Tuesday, January 3
[House Speaker] Republicans Take Control of House, Sort Of – The new Republican majority of the House took their seats but could not be sworn in, nor could House business such as committee formation take place. The simple reason: no Speaker of the House, no functioning House – and the Republicans failed to elect a speaker, the first time in 100 years. As expected, a hard-core anti-McCarthy block of the Republican “Patriot Caucus” refused Kevin McCarthy’s bid. [Update: This was to continue with many furbelows for four days until the 15th vote late Friday.]
[U.S. Football] Buffalo Bills Player Damar Hamlin Has On-field Cardiac Arrest – The crunching tackle and subsequent collapse was televised before millions on Monday Night Football. The near-fatal event shook the country – and the National Football League. It was a cause for soul-searching. Four days later, with intense ongoing media coverage and analysis, Hamlin made a dramatic recovery and after a seemly pause the NFL resumed its schedule on Saturday.
[Santos] Brazil Resumes Fraud Case Against George Santos (R-NY) – Santos was wanted for check fraud in 2008 but Brazilian authorities lost track of him – until he was elected to the U.S. House. Santos lied about his entire resumé in the 2022 election and is pending charges and Republican action (?) in the U.S.
[FDA] FDA Approves Pharmacy Distribution of Abortion Pill – The specific pill is mifepristone, which can now be widely dispensed with a prescription. Significantly, this is a recognition that abortion medications are now used in more than half of pregnancy terminations. Consequently, this and similar medications (often available online) are becoming the biggest battleground for anti-abortion activists, particularly in states where laws already forbid abortion.
Wednesday, January 4
[Bipartisanship] Biden and McConnell Share a Bridge Not Too Far – It was no accident that just as House Republicans took rhetorical machetes to each other over House Speaker, two good old boys of opposition, Biden and McConnell, jointly celebrated a new $1.6 billion infrastructure project to rebuild and repair a vital and crumbling bridge over the Ohio River, linking Kentucky and Ohio. The timing, symbolism, and messaging were not subtle. McConnell seems to be positioning himself for, if and when, a more traditional (non-Trump) Republican Party arises from the fascist ashes.
[Climate Change] Another “Atmospheric River” Hits Northern California – The second wave of Pacific moisture is swelling rivers, washing-out roads, and saturating land already wet from last weekend’s storm – and yet another such storm is predicted for Friday and the coming weekend. This second storm is likely to move down the coast, bringing needed rains to drought stricken southern California. The shots of heavy rain/snow are helping, but California reservoirs are running at 20%-30% below normal for this time of year – a half dozen more atmospheric rivers are still needed.
Thursday, January 5
[Immigration] Biden Announces Shift in Immigration Policy – At the southern border it’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t when it comes to asylum and immigration policy. Biden has apparently chosen the “don’t” side by augmenting the Title 42 policy that allows the U.S. to restrict or return immigrant/asylum seekers on health grounds. At the same time there are plans to increase legal migration by 30,000 a year (a drop in the bucket). None of this plays well with either Democratic or right-wing positions. Next week Biden will make his first visit to the border, and will probably tout his new policies. Too little, too late, too much, too whatever will be his critics’ response. In any case, true immigration reform is nowhere to be seen.
[Ukraine] Putin Announces Russian Orthodox Christmas Ceasefire, Ukraine Scoffs – Sounds good in Moscow, but may fall short of reality along the battlefront. In any case a PR win for Russian domestic consumption, guaranteed to bring on charges of violations from both sides.
[Climate Change] Study: Two-thirds of World’s Glaciers Gone by 2100 – Published in the journal Science, the study posits worst case glacier loss will add 6.5 inches of water to the oceans. On another level, the disappearance of glaciers will be a visible cue to the human population that global warming goes on apace.
[Abortion] South Carolina Supreme Court Finds State Constitution Protects Abortion Rights – Add another patch to the crazy quilt of abortion laws across the U.S. On this same day, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in favor of all three of Idaho’s Texas-style abortion laws. Currently the hard-right religious majority of the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t believe in compromise national solutions, so no help there.
Friday, January 6
[Jan. 6 Insurrection] Biden Honors “Defenders of the Capitol” on 2nd Anniversary of Jan. 6 – A number of capitol police, election workers, and local officials were given the Presidential Citizen’s Medal and praised for “upholding democracy” under an unprecedented assault on the nation’s headquarters. (Yet more than half of the Republican Party – including many in the House of Representatives – still assert trashing the capitol was heroic patriotism.)
[School Shooting] Virginia: First Grader (Six Years Old) Shoots Teacher in Class – The teacher, Abby Zwerner, suffered a life-threatening injury. The shooting was apparently intentional and part of a dispute. There are far more questions than answers, but the context is deeply troubling.
[U.S. House] McCarthy Elected Speaker of the House – The vote came just after midnight, the witching hour; McCarthy had made enough concessions to the rebel hard-right Patriot Caucus to allow them rules-control of the House while emasculating his role of Speaker. This guarantees an anti-democracy, pro-Putin, authoritarian slant to House proceedings for about two years.
It’s XBB.1.5 baby. The media covers this mostly in the back pages, but the relatively recent Omicron variant now accounts for almost 50% of new COVID cases in the U.S. XBB.1.5 is the most infectious variant to-date, but not the most lethal. The spread seems to have begun in the northeast (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont) and is moving regionally westward. Without much fanfare, deaths from COVID are now averaging around 500 per day. As they say, this is not a drill. Unfortunately, Americans are now mitigation averse (thanks, Trump and right-wing public health denialists) and what should be normal vaccination, masking, and quarantine measures aren’t even in the political handbook. The coming mid-January wave, the result of the holidays, will push infections back up around 100,000 a day, adding to the already bad flu season, and RSV infections. It may not look cool, but do yourself a favor – mask up in public, get vaccinated, and be contagion aware – especially if you’re older than 65 and/or have preconditions.
Pinned Point: Until we seriously confront – and deal with – the media conundrum created by disinformation and the First Amendment (here’s looking at Fox News, Twitter et al.), the information chaos will get worse.
Quote of the Week
I admit it: Like many liberals, I’m feeling a fair bit of MAGAfreude — taking some pleasure in the self-destruction of the American right. [T]here has been no significant dispute about policy — Kevin McCarthy and his opponents agree on key policy issues like investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop and depriving the Internal Revenue Service of the resources it needs to go after wealthy tax cheats.
Paul Krugman, “Making America the Opposite of Great,” The New York Times, 1/5/2023.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]